Stilbaai: a lazy, seaside town located along the southern coast of South Africa and a four-hours’ drive from Cape Town. Blessed with a beautiful natural heritage, a lovely, warm lagoon, rich birdlife, pristine beaches, and a fairly well-kitted out town with more than enough grocery stores and bars to keep you well fed and watered, Stilbaai is an idea holiday getaway for Capetonians.
But there’s another reason to trek 340 km east through road works, stop-and-goes, and some of the Cape’s most spectacular and dramatic mountainscapes: the best darn craft gin you’ll find this side of Cape Agulhas!
The Inverroche Story
In 2012, Inverroche Gin Distillery put down its roots a stone’s throw outside the town of Stilbaai and it has been offering locals and visitors alike an excellent reason to get pickled on quality craft gin ever since. Inverroche is the loving heart and brainchild of Lorna Scott and her family, who have both Celtic and Gaelic backgrounds. This explains the choice of name, which comes from the Scottish word Inver (confluence of water) and French word roche (rock). Together, they pay homage to the combination of elements that have come together beautifully in Stilbaai to create the conditions necessary to craft their exceptional gins and spirits.
Venue and attractions
Today, visitors can peruse the floor-to-ceiling displays of the distillery’s multiple gin, rum, and liquor ranges, have a gin-and-tonic ice-cream (not even Romeo and Juliet made a better couple), go on a tour of the behind-the-scenes operations, enjoy an interactive gin tasting, and, of course, get your “Ginderella on”. Inverroche even offers gin and rum-making classes so that you can bootleg your own craft booze at home.
The venue itself is beautifully and exotically outfitted with a seductive yet exuberant palette of colours, complete with uber trendy copper highlights (there’s a copper piano in the tasting room!). From its vineyard-dressed entrance to the plush and sophisticated tasting room, there isn’t a space one cannot luxuriate in.
Tour and tasting
After poking about the distillery, oohing and aahing at its spectacular displays, enormous vials of gin, gin-infused ice-cream menu, and little copper stills that had the steampunk among us practically drooling, we coalesced for the official tour lead by the sweet and knowledgeable Annalise. Of the actual distillery itself – a monstrous metal contraption affectionately named Magnanimous Meg – there isn’t much to see. But Annalise had us enthralled with how Inverroche evolved from a tiny still producing a meagre number bottles a year to a flourishing and pioneering craft distillery that exports 20% of its product, mostly to Europe.
With renewed appreciation for gin (as if it were even necessary), we bundled into the opulent tasting lounge to taste four of Inverroche’s distinct gins: the Gin Classic, Gin Verdant, Gin Amber, and the Coco Carissa.
I’ll be honest: keeping a straight face while sipping gin neat isn’t easy and there were a few tortured, contorted faces and polite coughs around the tasting table that day. But experiencing the gin in all its naked and boozy glory was just the first phase of the tasting. We then added a lemon, orange, or naartjie rind or a botanical element depending on Annalise’s instructions, which immediately softened the edge of the alcohol and opened up the gin’s spectrum of botanical flavours. The final step was the addition of Indian tonic water to the remainder of the tot and none of us had any trouble drinking that.
A discourse on what Inverroche essentially does would not be complete without mentioning the botany that goes into each and every bottle. Distilling alcohol is only half the story – the boring half, as it turns out.
The Cape Floral Kingdom is considered one of the smallest biomes in the world, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in sheer diversity and richness. For example, there are more species of plants on Table Mountain than in all of Great Britain. Along this section of coastline, there are 9,000 species of Fynbos plants and it was with the help of two local botanists, Dr Tol Pienaar and his wife Annette, that Inverroche founder Lorna Scott identified 300 she could use to give her craft gins their unique characters and flavours.
Cognisant of the rarity and plight of the Western Cape’s indigenous vegetation, Inverroche is careful to only harvest what the environment can naturally sustain.
“There’s a limit to how many bottles we’ll produce; that limit isn’t imposed on us by things like capacity or distribution, or even choice – no, Mother Nature is our ultimate check and balance. She’ll keep us honest,” says Lorna.
Additionally, the distillery works with several indigenous plant nurseries, which grow the botanicals from seed and then re-establish them in their natural environment before they are hand harvested. This means that no naturally occurring vegetation is affected and that anything taken away is replaced.
“All our plantings are registered with and supervised by Cape Nature.”
Maak n’ draai by Stilbaai
The next time you find yourself planning a seaside holiday to get away from the rigors of city life and its homicidal-inducing traffic, you simply have to head to Stilbaai. Sea, sun, sand, surf, quaint craft shops, and delightfully dodgy pubs – the sleepy town has it all. And, of course: Inverroche. This gorgeous gin distillery produces exceptional tipple, pays homage to the rich natural heritage with which our region is blessed, and invests enthusiastically in the wealth of it local population.
What more could you possibly ask for?
For bookings and enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +27 (0) 28 754 2442. Advanced bookings are recommended.